You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Ebertfest Honorees Share Memories of Roger Ebert

Every year industry heavyweights descend on Champaign, Ill., to pay tribute to Roger Ebert’s lasting legacy in the world of film.

Ebertfest, the annual week-long celebration of all things cinematic, was founded by the late Chicago Sun-Times critic and his wife, Chaz, who presides over the event with fest director Nate Kohn in collaboration with the University of Illinois College of Media.

Such legends as producers Norman Lear and Irwin Winkler; actress Isabelle Huppert; cinematographer Caleb Deschanel; and directors Charles Burnett, Gary Ross and Robert Townsend will be feted by cheering fans at screenings and scholarly panels.

Yet hoopla aside, guests can’t stop talking about another legend: Roger, the man with the big thumbs-up, whose truth goes marching on.

“It was clear how much he loved film,” Lear says. “It’s one thing to criticize, another to criticize out of love. To know his work is to know how much he cared for film and for filmmakers.”

“I think this festival is unique,” says Burnett, whose “To Sleep With Anger” will be projected on the giant screen of Champaign’s restored landmark Virginia Theater. “I can only think of a few festivals that have taken the name of a person who has advanced the art of cinema.”

Townsend, who’ll moderate Burnett’s Q&A, praises Ebert as “a champion of new voices” who “always had an open mind, saying, ‘OK, I’m learning something about a culture,’ whatever the film happened to be.”

“It’s one thing to criticize, another to criticize out of love. To know [Ebert’s] work is to know how much he cared for film and for filmmakers.”
Norman Lear

Huppert echoes that sentiment, lauding Ebert and late partner Gene Siskel as cinephiles primed “to build the bridges between foreign cultures.” Years ago Ebert praised the French star, now bringing Oscar-nominated tour de force “Elle,” for her ability “to betray almost nothing to the camera … as if daring us to guess what she is thinking.”

She’s clearly touched by the quote, and impressed by his acumen. “He understood what I was trying to express in films. It’s very, very accurate. What I feel I do on screen — showing and hiding at the same time — is what the movie medium allows an actor. I do it as much as I can.”

Lear, appearing with Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s 2016 biographical documentary, “Just Another Version of You,” takes similar pride in an Ebert bouquet. Calling the critic a “stalwart” who “sought the interior of characters, content and story,” Lear stops short when told his 1971 feature “Cold Turkey” received a four-star review for its “malice and avarice.”

“What a great man!,” he jests. “When I hear that played back so many years later, I love it,” with an artist’s gratitude for kudos to underappreciated work.

The original moniker Overlooked Film Festival reflected Roger’s penchant for “cinema that others didn’t always see the value in,” as Townsend puts it. That spirit remains alive in the programming of Tanya Wexler’s “quietly saucy” (Ebert’s phrase) 2011 Victorian era biopic “Hysteria,” and closing night attraction “De-Lovely,” Irwin Winkler’s commercially disappointing 2004 Cole Porter passion project, admired by the critic for its “worldly sophistication.”

Ebert handed Winkler lumps over the years. “He was always a tough critic, but a good one, and that goes with the territory.” Enthusiasm for his directing debut “Guilty by Suspicion,” and lunches at Cannes events, brought the men closer.

Of “De-Lovely,” Winkler says: “I thought it was so interesting, to deal with the love relationship of a gay man with a woman who basically was not interested in sex at all … and to find a way to do that great music with modern performers.” He relishes the chance to revisit it on a giant screen in a 35mm print before 1,600 people, “rather than somebody sitting alone in their living room, watching it on a small screen. Or on their watch.”

Impeccable projection and sound are a proud hallmark of the festival, per Chaz Ebert. “I hope the guests lose themselves to the characters in the screen, and that they have an immersive experience.” Concentration within the showplace is followed by bonhomie without, as attendees partake of food trucks in the broad plaza, mingle and talk film. “It’s unlike any other festival in the world, and I’ve been to a lot of them.”

Burnett says he simply expects “a good experience … to enjoy myself and to meet filmmakers and other people,” an outcome to which Roger would likely give thumbs up.

Ebertfest might not be the biggest festival in the world, but it carries Ebert’s spirit and dedication and love for movies,” Huppert says. “And that’s so important.”

More Film

  • Bill Murray

    Bill Murray to Receive Lifetime Achievement Award From Wes Anderson at Rome Festival

    The Rome Film Festival will celebrate Bill Murray with its lifetime achievement award, which will be presented to him by Wes Anderson. Anderson, who has directed Murray in some of his most iconic roles, most notably in “The Royal Tenenbaums,” and in several other films such as “The Darjeeling Limited,” “Moonrise Kingdom” and “Grand Budapest [...]

  • CLOSE QUARTERS – In Disney and

    'Toy Story 4': 5 Takeaways From Opening Weekend

    Despite arriving below expectations, “Toy Story 4” did huge business this weekend with ticket sales surpassing $118 million in North America. As sequels hailing from beloved franchises continue to flounder at the box office, Disney and Pixar’s cartooned fourquel is a much-needed win for the movie business. It now ranks among the top debuts for [...]

  • Prince Death

    Prince’s ‘Batman' at 30: How the Film Saved His Career From ‘Horrible’ Financial Straits

    As the movie that ushered in both the modern-day superhero genre and a new peak in the art of saturation marketing, Tim Burton’s “Batman” has a legacy that’s hard to overstate. Virtually everything associated with the 1989 comic-book adaptation became a cultural phenomenon, from Burton’s mischievous, mainstream-goth aesthetic to the meta-narrative of the film’s record-breaking [...]

  • Lucrecia MartelVenice Film Festival 2017, Italy

    Argentina's Lucrecia Martel Named Venice Jury President

    Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel has been named the president of the jury at this year’s Venice Film Festival, the event’s 76th edition. Venice chief Alberto Barbera praised Martel as “Latin America’s most important female director and one of the top female directors worldwide,” adding that she had achieved this status with just “four feature films [...]

  • NEW TOY? – Everyone’s favorite pull-string

    China Box Office: 'Toy Story 4' Beaten by Old Animated Film 'Spirited Away'

    Disney and Pixar’s “Toy Story 4” has debuted to record-breaking opening weekends all over the world – but not in China, where it was soundly beaten by a nearly 20-year-old Japanese anime classic, Ghibli Studios’ “Spirited Away.” While “Toy Story 4” made film history in territories around the world with the largest-ever three-day opening for [...]

  • The Wolf Hour

    Shanghai Film Review: 'The Wolf Hour'

    Run a finger along any of the surfaces in Alistair Banks Griffin’s sophomore feature “The Wolf Hour,” and it will come up slicked with sweat, grime and the residual soot of the city. It is the summer of 1977,  and it’s hotter than hell. June Leigh (Naomi Watts) perches on the window sill of the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content